One in four first grade (ie. seven year-old) children in Estonia is overweight or obese, according to a recent study. Reasons behind this and what can be done about it were the central topic of discussion on a recent episode of Estonian discussion show 'Suud Puhtaks' (which roughly translates as 'speak your mind') on Wednesday, 16 May.
Some of the causes mentioned on the episode, which features both audience opinion and that of invited experts from related areas such as nutrition and kindergarten care, included irregular or inconsistent diet, too little exercise and the popularity of sugary foods and drinks. In addition, an inappropriate ratio of meat to vegetables is a factor thought to be all too commonplace for children in Estonia today.
Ülle Einberg, a paediatrician and edocrinologist who appeard on the show, noted that whilst some children have a genetic predisposition towards obesity, home environment was far more significant. A child who had two overweight parents had as much as a 70% chance of being overweight themselves, falling to 50% in the case of children with only one overweight or obese parent. Where both parents were at a healthy weight, there was only 10% chance of a child being overweight, she explained.
Külli Holsting, Member of the Board of Nutrition Advisers, explained how it was the role of both parents and schools to ensure that children eat at a steady rate throughout the day and avoid binge-eating, in order to maintain stable blood sugar levels. This is however not as straightforward as it sounds, she pointed out, given the hectic and drawn-out schedules many schoolchildren in Estonia have today, both in their classroom and physical exercise activities.
This can result in very irregular and unhealthy eating habits, something which can be exacerbated by inadequate catering facilities in schools. One Tallinn school even has to hold lunchbreaks at 09.30 in addition to the more usual times simply because the school canteen is too small to accomodate all the children at one time, she reported.
The entire episode of 'Suud Puhtaks' (in Estonian) can be viewed here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte